In the U.S., it's Groundhog Day. Elsewhere, it's also the Feast of Candlemas. For many, especially in some European countries, the celebration of Candlemas on 2 February is now all that is remembered of the traditional season of ‘Old Christmas’.*
Old Christmas, like Old Advent (the season leading up to Christmas Day) and the period of Lent preceding Easter, was a period of 40 days. It began on Christmas Day and continued until the day on which Christians recall the presentation of the baby Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem by his parents, Mary and Joseph. (This despite the quirk of our Lectionary regime of readings that has already raced ahead to the Baptism of Jesus and the beginnings of his ministry.)
The presentation by Mary and Joseph, described in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2: 22-40), would have been timed to coincide with the end of Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth – a period of forty days. For that reason, the day is also sometimes referred to as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin. There are several traditions associated with Candlemas (including the eating of crepes in France and the more widespread reference to snowdrops as ‘Candlemas Bells’). However, for most Christians it is the idea of Jesus-as-light bringer that is uppermost on this day.
Candles may be blessed; a candle-lit procession may take place; and, on Candlemas night, many people place lighted candles in their windows at home – all actions that remind us that Jesus is often described as the “light of the world”.
Reflecting this idea of Jesus as the light of the world, there are a number of candle-themed hymns in Singing the Faith. A number of these are associated specifically with the lighting of Advent candles in the lead up to Christmas but there are others that are equally suitable for use at Candlemas, including:
Into the darkness of this world (StF 173)
Light we now our candle’s flame (website only)
Like a candle flame, flickering small in our darkness (StF 176)
Longing for light, we wait in darkness (StF 706)